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Character of God

Does God Curse Generations?

Thank you to our audience for your incredible questions. In this week’s episode, we tackle questions like, “Is God the same in the Old and New Testaments?” “Does the Bible support the idea of generational curses?” “Does Moses convince God to change his mind?” Listen in to hear the team answer your questions.
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Episode Details

September 14, 2020
54 min

Episode Details

September 14, 2020
54 min

Show Notes

QUOTE

“Part of what it means to be a Christian is to read the Old and New Testaments as a unity. But that doesn’t mean they’re uniform in all their depictions of God. They’re a mosaic that come from a lot of different places and times. And so the goal is to create an overall synthesis and read each individual story in light of that larger synthesis that really culminates in Jesus.”

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • The Bible’s complex portrait of God should be seen as a mosaic, which allows us to interpret challenging passages in light of the larger synthesis of God’s character.
  • When God promises to visit the iniquity of fathers on children, he is not promising generational curses. Instead he is highlighting his disposition toward justice and forgiveness in spite of the ongoing consequences of sin.
  • Moses’ intercession before God points us toward Jesus as the greatest intercessor and invites us to consider how God desires to partner with humanity.

Is God’s character the same in the Old and New Testaments?

Nancy from Michigan (00:49)

My son grew up in the Church but has been questioning his faith. At times he sees God as being contradictory and appearing to be emotionally abusive at times. In one of your podcasts you mentioned that Jesus is the full-orb portrait of God. If people don’t see this, they are either misunderstanding God, Jesus, or both. What exactly would you say people are misunderstanding about the God of the Old Testament and Jesus of the New Testament?

Tim shares that many people struggle with the complex portrait of God when they begin reading the Bible for themselves. Our goal as readers of the Bible is to create a synthesis and read each individual story in light of the larger story that culminates in Jesus. Our Character of God series is one tool that highlights this continuity in God’s character between the Old and New Testaments.

For someone who has struggled with the depiction of God through their own Bible reading or their experiences with the Church, Tim recommends spending time in the four Gospel accounts. By starting with the person of Jesus and seeing him as the end goal, we then have a fresh perspective for reading the Old Testament. Carissa adds that another helpful step is identifying in our own lives where we have received a picture of God.

Does the Bible Teach about Generational Curses?

John from California (16:05)

I really like the discussion you guys are having about Exodus 34:6-7, and immediately it made me think of Ezekiel 18, when God talks about how the sins of the father will not be held against the son and the sins of the son will not be held against the father. And it goes on to say other things in relationship to that. I wanted to see how you relate the passage in Ezekiel back to Exodus and if there's any connection there?

Trinette from Louisiana (16:43)

In John 9, when Jesus and the disciples encounter a man blind from birth, the disciples ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” Is this a reference to Exodus 34:7 and the idea of visiting the iniquities of the father on the son? And can this verse be traced to and be the foundation of the idea of generational curses?

In a previous podcast episode, the team talked about how God doesn’t punish children for their parents’ sin but instead promises to hold each generation accountable.

Exodus 34:7
“[God] keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet he will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

Tim says that this line about visiting iniquity is a restatement from the ten commandments.

Exodus 20:5-6
You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.

This passage highlights that God punishes only those generations that hate him. The phrase “the third and the fourth” is a Hebrew idiom for “however many” (see Proverbs 30 and Amos 2). But this idea is also foundational for the Genesis narrative of repeated sin in the lives of Adam, Abraham, and his descendants.

In John 9, Jesus disagrees with the disciples’ assumption that a man’s blindness was a result of either his sins or his parents’. Carissa points out a parallel from the wisdom literature. Proverbs gives us general principles about life, but the book of Job shows us that those principles can’t be used to explain why bad things happen to good people.

There are ways that the sins of parents can cause negative consequences for future generations. However, that’s different from saying God will hold children accountable for their parents’ sin. This is fleshed out further in our next question.

Consequences Versus Punishment

Thomas from Washington (27:20)

When you explained the latter half of God’s announcement about himself in Exodus 34, you made it seem like God will visit the iniquity on each generation for their own sins and failures, but this has not been my experience. My biological grandfather was an alcoholic who left his family when my father was very young. The ripple effects of his sins have been felt by my father, my siblings and I, and by my own children. This is how I’ve always understood these verses; my sin will bring suffering to those who come after me. Is there anything to this concept, or am I way off?

Exodus 34:7 addresses how God works in the complex reality of human failure and consequence, especially in light of God's desire to have a covenant relationship with humanity. God’s answer is that he will be just to address the iniquity of each generation.

The biblical story of Joseph illustrates how God is able to respond to generations of human evil by planning good and bringing deliverance. Jon says that in a way, God seems to be putting a limit on how long he’ll let humans continue in their iniquity before turning it for good. The consequences of our sin may affect future generations, but God offers refuge to each generation and holds each accountable.

The idea of generational curses may resonate with some people’s experiences, but it doesn’t borrow language from the Bible and tends to paint God as one who punishes future generations.

Tim brings up Ezekiel 18, which provides helpful commentary on Exodus 34:7. In the Ezekiel passage, God references a common saying among the people that the children suffer the punishment of their parents. God directly refutes this by painting a story of three generations and highlighting how God evaluates each generation by their own merits. He then goes on to say that even the righteous and the wicked can change course in their own lifetimes.

This highlights God’s disposition to be with us in our suffering. The consequences we face for the sins of others are not God’s punishment on us. Rather, God is consistently disposed to offer divine forgiveness and work good through our circumstances.

Did God Change His Mind?

Chris from England (42:18)

When Moses was reminding God of his character because God wanted to leave the Israelites, do you think there is any indication that this was God’s plan all along? Was he playing hard to draw a response of compassion out of Moses, maybe as a test to see if Moses would consider God’s character and plead for the Israelites rather than to seek his own legacy?

This story certainly highlights a positive development in Moses’ character. However, Tim sees this less as God teaching Moses something and more about the narrator teaching the reader how God relates to people—as one who genuinely makes his will vulnerable out of a desire to partner with humanity.

This story highlights the need for an ultimate human intercessor who will stand before God on behalf of sinful humanity. As followers of Jesus, we can be thankful for the one who stands and intercedes on our behalf. We also trust that God invites us to partner with him through intercession.

Show Music

  • “Defender (Instrumental)” by Tents

Show produced by Dan Gummel and Camden McAfee.

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